WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was not told about a reported Russian effort to get the Taliban to kill US soldiers because many US intelligence officials doubted its veracity, a stance contradicted by four US and European sources and by its inclusion in a widely read CIA report in May.
“We never heard about it because intelligence never found it to be of that level,” he told Fox Business Network. “The intelligence people... many of them didn’t believe it happened at all.”
The four US and European government sources, who are familiar with intelligence reporting, said that in recent weeks the United States had acquired fresh reporting backing up the allegations that Russia had encouraged Taliban-affiliated militants to kill US and allied soldiers in Afghanistan.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the latest information caused US government experts to discount the National Security Agency’s questioning of the allegations.
One of those sources and a fifth person familiar with the matter said the US intelligence community is confident Russia encouraged the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan but there was internal debate over whether Moscow had actually paid bounties.
A sixth person familiar with the matter said the CIA was sufficiently confident of the intelligence to include it in May in its daily flagship publication, the CIA World Intelligence Review, known informally as “The Wire.”
Its inclusion there “undermines the administration’s entire claim that it is not finished, it’s not verified and it wasn’t a fully complete product,” said this person, who asked not to be identified further because of the sensitivity of the matter.
White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters the United States will respond strongly if it is confirmed that Russia paid militants to kill US and allied soldiers in Afghanistan, without providing details.
The New York Times, which broke the story last week, has reported that Trump received a written briefing on the matter in February.
O’Brien said a CIA civil servant decided not to brief Trump verbally “because she didn’t have confidence in the intelligence.”